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Which tech degrees pay the most from day one?

Carolyn Duffy Marsan | March 6, 2013
Young technologists have a variety of undergraduate degrees that they can pursue at the collegiate level. But which degree is going to produce the most job offers and the highest starting salaries? Should college students major in computer science, software engineering, IT or some other niche in order to snare the top prize four years from now: a six-figure starting salary, perhaps with stock options?

"Lots of our students are working in financial services firms," Trygstad says. "A lot of them are going to small software development companies, and some students are starting their own companies."

Nonetheless, IT majors have lower starting salaries than other techie college graduates. That may be because this academic discipline is relatively new. Brigham Young University was first to launch a bachelor's of science in IT in 1989; today, 225 colleges offer accredited programs.

"Any kid that I talk to at age 17, I ask them how much do they love math. If someone really loves math, they belong in computer science or computer engineering because those are mathematically-intensive disciplines. IT is not as mathematically oriented. The math we use is probability and statistics," Trygstad says.

Information Systems

Avg. Starting Salary: $50,900*

Mid-career Salary: $86,700*

*Source: PayScale College Salary Report 2012-13

One tech-oriented major that's less popular these days is Information Systems (IS), which is typically offered in business schools. The degree teaches students how to use technology to gain a competitive advantage in business rather than how to create new technology.

Most IS majors from the University of Indianapolis are finding jobs, particularly within the IT departments or business units of such companies as OneAmerica, Eli Lilly, Anthem and Interactive Intelligence. Average starting salaries last year were between $45,000 and $50,000.

"About 95% of our students graduated with jobs last year," says Professor Jerry Flatto of the Information Systems Department at the University of Indianapolis. "You've always got an odd one or two who are not well suited for corporate environments or who didn't do particularly well in school."

The University of Indianapolis has 45 IS majors enrolled and another 30 students who are earning a minor in IS out of 150 students in its School of Business. These numbers have risen over the last few years but haven't reached the levels of 1999 and 2000 before the dot-com bust.

"We're focusing on how IS impacts business, and that includes non-profits, cities and states," Flatto says. "We're focused on how to use technology to improve your competitive position. It's hard to outsource that capability to India or China.''

Nationwide, IS majors have a harder time finding jobs than others with technical degrees. A Georgetown University study reported unemployment rates of 11.7% for recent college graduates with an IS degree.

"The IS program has sort of fallen off the map," says Professor Shawn Bohner, director of graduate and undergraduate programs in software engineering at Rose-Hulman. "The perception is that it's more business-oriented, and that students don't have the math skills needed to do the heavy lifting. Lots of systems today are very complex. It used to be that you could be a programmer and not need to deal with the scale of these systems. But today things are moving toward the fundamental math and algorithms."

 

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